Theary Seng's Comment on Duch's Verdict Posted on the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Originally Posted at:

The RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights recognizes the significance of the guilty verdict by the UN-backed court in Cambodia against Duch, the commandant of Toul Sleng prison. We consider it as one step closer to recovery and reconciliation of a society traumatized by the horrors of war. Duch was convicted of crimes against humanity for overseeing the killing and torture of more than 14,000 people at the notorious Khmer Rouge prison.

However, the sentence of 35 years and its subsequent reduction to 19 years for such unspeakable crimes may not adequately hold accountable someone who was most responsible for what has come to be known as "the killing fields." RFK Center's partner in Cambodia, Theary Seng, reacted to the decision with mixed emotions. Here is what she said:

On 26 July 2010, the Extraordinary Chambers (informally, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) convicted the former director of the notorious Tuol Sleng torture center, Comrade Duch, for crimes against humanity in the sadistic murders of at least 14,000 Cambodians including a handful of foreigners and sentenced him to 35 years of imprisonment. The conviction marked a milestone for Cambodians after having waited some 30 years for some form of credible justice.

However, many Cambodian survivors, including myself, viewed the sentencing to be too lenient and incompehensible in light of the enormity of his crimes. After the Extraordinary Chambers deducted 5 years for his cooperation and 11 years for the illegal pre-Extraordinary Chambers detention in a military prison from the 35 years, the victims are left with Comrade Duch effectively receiving 11 hours of imprisonment for each live he brutally murdered.

Up until this puzzling verdict, we Cambodians have been viewing the Extraordinary Chambers as a very powerful catalyst in breaking the silence of our past 30 years and transitioning us into a culture of dialogue and memorializing. However, this lenient verdict has taken the air out of us and broken the momentum in our stride toward a more fuller justice of both legal accountability and just peace. We will need to regain our composure and faith very quickly from this setback in order to concentrate on the larger picture, which is the demand for the quick start of the "senior Khmer Rouge leaders" in Case 002. Case 001 regarding Comrade Duch is significant in familiarizing us Cambodians with the Extraordinary Chambers and in this regards, it was a test-run for the heart of the matter - the trial of the Senior Khmer Rouge leaders. Duch was only one director of one Khmer Rouge detention center. During the Khmer Rouge regime, there existed at least 200 other detention centers and thousands of "killiing fields"; he was not a "senior" Khmer Rouge leader and should not be the sole scapegoat of this murderous, genocidal regime.

His conviction on 26 July 2010 is a very good start, even if disappointing in terms of the light sentencing; but it is only a start in the legal process as well as the journey of healing. The heart of the Extraordinary Chambers is the anticipated trial of the Senior Khmer Rouge leaders in Case 002, which we must advocate for it to happen quickly before they die of old age, ill health and/or from more invidious political interests.


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